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Poisson d’avril

POSTED April 1, 2011 9:19 p.m.

Hopefully, everyone reading this column successfully made it through another April Fool’s Day. It is difficult for me to have any serious conversation on the first day of April because I’m always worried that I will be made a fool in the end.

This year wasn’t too bad, however. I was only a “noodle” — as they say in England — once. Education reporter Jonathan McCorkell led me to believe there was blood smeared across the wall in the back of the Journal building. My journalistic senses tingling, I was interested to uncover any heinous wrongdoing that may have occurred so close to the office. Of course, there was no blood and our newest reporter now knows that I am an easy mark when it comes to pranks.

I’m just glad my coffee was sweetened with sugar instead of salt — which happened to me one year — or a mouse trap wasn’t placed in my desk drawer — something I never want to remember again.

Journal graphic designer Hector Ramirez had a doozy of a prank played on him this year. Starting at 7 a.m. on Friday, Hector received numerous phone calls about his car for sale. While he was surprised so many people were car shopping at the crack of dawn, he was even more surprised to learn his car was for sale. It seems his brother took it upon himself to place Hector’s car for sale on craigslist, and at a bargain of a price! The funniest part about this prank was Hector continuing to receive calls all day, despite the listing only being online from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. — when Hector made a very frustrated call to his comedic sibling.

After laughing it up at Hector’s expense, I decided to research the history of April Fool’s Day. While my research wasn’t scientific — I only did an Internet search — the articles I found pretty much all said the same thing.

It probably began around 1582 in France with the reform of the calendar under Charles IX. The Gregorian calendar was introduced, and New Year's Day was moved from March 25 - April 1 (new year's week) to Jan. 1.

Many people decided not to acknowledge the change and continued to celebrate on April 1. These people were labeled "fools" by the general populace, were subject to ridicule and sent on "fool errands," sent invitations to nonexistent parties and had other practical jokes played upon them. The butts of these pranks became known as a "poisson d'avril" or "April fish" because a young naive fish is easily caught. In addition, one common practice was to hook a paper fish on the back of someone as a joke.

This harassment evolved over time and a custom of prank-playing continue on the first day of April. This tradition eventually spread elsewhere like to Britain and Scotland in the 18th century and was introduced to the American colonies by the English and the French.

According to the Museum of Hoaxes, the number April Fool’s Day prank of all time was the Swiss spaghetti harvest. In 1957 the respected BBC news show “Panorama” announced that thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop. It accompanied this announcement with footage of Swiss peasants pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees. Huge numbers of viewers were taken in. Many called the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. To this the BBC diplomatically replied, "place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."

The search engine gurus at Google are also known for their April-foolery. This year they put a link on their homepage stating: "New! Gmail Motion: Turn your email into a true body of work." A link then took people to a page with videos supposedly showing new technology developed to let body movements replace typing.

I wonder how many people sat in front of their computers on Friday clicking their fingers together to open an e-mail? More than will admit it, I imagine.

Whether you spent Friday executing the perfect hoax, or trying to avoid being the April fish, in these stressful times any distraction can be alluring. However, I would appreciate it if our state legislators would put all kidding aside and get back to the serious business of fixing our state.

To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail khacker@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.

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